Lake Geneva with kids: What to do in in Lake Geneva Wisconsin

My introduction to Lake Geneva Wisconsin was with the US Postal Service. Why? Because many of the elegant vacation homes hugging the lakeshore were once only accessible by boat, and some still request mail service by mailboat. Visitors can tag along, joining a Mailboat Tour with Lake Geneva Cruise Lines (for about $27 for adults and $15 for kids) for a perfect overview of the lake and its unique history as a playground for Chicago’s wealthy.

Once onboard, you’ll see why this lake region is the perfect place to escape if you’re a Midwesterner. As a bonus, families can watch ‘mail jumpers’ at work while on the cruise: these young adults and high school kids jump from the side of the mailboat to resident docks and back again, delivering mail while the boat stays in motion. It’s a talent you have to see to believe. Along the way, you’ll gawk at mansions owned by the likes of the Wrigley family, Maytag family and more. Even the boathouses and docks of these mansions are impressive.

After disembarking from your mailboat tour, an array of lakeside activities await. Here’s what else to do in Lake Geneva with kids:

Walk the shore path:

What could be tame of somewhat boring for kids is made fun by the variety of terrain and sights along Lake Geneva’s Shore Path. Running continuously the circumference of Lake Geneva (21+ miles around), the Shore Path takes you past all those mansions you glimpsed from the water, along with hundreds of additional elegant homes and gardens. The path is public all the way around, but as each home is responsible for maintaining their stretch of the path, what you encounter varies greatly. One section might be brick and the next dirt, or you may encounter stepping stones and then pavement.

Families must stay on the path (no playing in millionaires gardens or on their docks) and due to the sometimes rugged terrain, strollers and bikes aren’t a great idea. Several public access points are available to walk a section, including Lake Geneva Public Library, Fontana, Williams Bay and Big Foot Beach State Park. Walk a section and get picked up by the mailboat, or park a car on each end of your section (or just retrace your steps). Kids like seeing what type of path will come next, and parents enjoy taking in the mansions.

Tip: Go to the and download the free Shore Path app. It will give you ideal sections to walk (describing the terrain encountered) as well as history on most of the mansions along the way.

Go to Tristan Crist’s Magic Show:

Maybe you think you don’t like magic shows. Or maybe you think they’re silly or boring. Trust me, you’ll like this one. Everyone in the family will. Tristan Crist is the most talented magician I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them in huge venues everywhere from Miami to Vegas. Tristan’s showmanship is highly entertaining, and his sleight of hand is awesome. His performs in Lake Geneva in order to own his own small theater, and the result is a truly intimate performance. It’s only 60 minutes long, so it works for families with all aged kids.

Zip line and climb with Lake Geneva Canopy Tours:

Lake Geneva Canopy Tours offers eight zip lines, five sky bridges, four spiral staircases built into trees and a 1200 foot long racing zip line. The ropes course is in a separate area, with the usual obstacles and nets. Each ‘side’ of the park starts at $55 admission. I’ve experienced canopy tours and zip lines everywhere from Mexico to Canada, and this one is on par with the best.

Boat on a lake:

Many people don’t realize that the Lake Geneva area actually includes three lakes: Geneva, Como, and Delavan. Geneva is spring-fed, which gives it its crystal-clear quality. However, Como and Delavan are both less crowded and quieter (and I’m told Delavan is the place for fishing). We got on Lake Geneva with Marina Bay Boat Rentals which is very conveniently located in downtown Lake Geneva (by the historic Riviera building). It’s BYO everything when you rent, from food to beverages to ice, but then the lake is yours. We rented a pontoon boat so we could cruise around near the shoreline to do more mansion gawking.

During the time of our visit, pontoon rentals were around $455 for four hours (they also offer two and three-hour rental prices, but four hours gives you time to stop for lunch along the lakeshore, tying up at a dock and perhaps pausing in a bay for some swimming. I did note that on quieter Delavan Lake, the same type of pontoon boat was a little less at $375 for four hours. Both lakes (as well as Como) also offer wave runners, ski boats, and other lake toys.

Ride a scooter:

This is one for families with teens 16 and up (who have drivers’ licenses) or grown-ups on a solo outing. Scooters (like Vespas) can be rented from Scoot Jockeys in Lake Geneva for a very reasonable $59 for two hours (or $69 for three hours). Or, you can join a tour for $109 (Fridays and Saturdays only). If you haven’t ridden a scooter before, don’t worry: the women who instructed us gave us lots of great tips and made sure we knew how to operate and ride our scooters before we left the parking lot.

If you want to embark on your own, Scoot Jockeys has several suggested routes (with maps), but there is some navigating of state highways and downtown traffic to access the best quiet country roads. If you don’t know the area at all, I suggest a tour. I felt much more comfortable with a local leading the way. Once we got out of downtown Lake Geneva, we found gently rolling, gently winding roads to explore. You do have to be comfortable on a Vespa-type vehicle to enjoy this activity, and if you have teens, they do need to be licensed drivers (and not too wild and crazy on these things!).

Rent a paddleboard or kayak:

If you don’t need a motorized means of zipping around the lake, almost all the marina areas around all three lakes offer rentals of SUPs (stand-up paddleboards), kayaks, inflatables and even pedalboards (think of a Stairmaster/surfboard combo). More affordable than renting a boat, adding a few toys to your beach day on the lake can go a long way. Our favorite marina for ‘toy’ rentals was Lake Lawn Resort on Lake Delavan (more on Lake Lawn below) but you’ll find fun toys everywhere.

Where to eat in Lake Geneva:

Popeye’s: Located downtown, this is the place to go for your typical ‘vacation’ food of fried fish, baskets of fries, and burgers.
Oakfire: nearby, Oakfire offers wood-fired pizza in an authentic Naples, Italy method. Their individual 12” pizzas can easily feed two.
Sopra: Our pick for date night if you manage to get an evening out alone without the kids (though certainly kids are welcome). Sopra offers elevated Italian-American cuisine and excellent cocktails in downtown Lake Geneva. Come a bit early and do some window shopping in town.
Pier 290 and Boat House: Located on Lake Geneva, both Pier 290 and Boat House offer boat-in diving (just boat right up to the dock) and lakeside seating. The Boat House is where to go to catch the sunset.
Rushing Waters: This unique dining experience is located on an 80-acre fish farm. Lovingly tended by self-proclaimed ‘fishmonger’ Nell and her team, this sustainable fish farm offers public fishing from one of their ponds. This is a great opportunity to teach kids about food sources as well as give them the chance for near-instant fishing success. How it works: for $9.50 per pound, kids can fish using Rushing Waters’ equipment. The catch will be cleaned and served at a $12.50 (additional) shore lunch, which includes side dishes at their restaurant on-site.

Where to stay at Lake Geneva with kids:

I stayed at Lake Lawn Resort on Delavan (about a 10-minute drive from downtown Lake Geneva). This resort is ready-made for families, with multiple outdoor pools, a large indoor pool complex, two miles of shoreline (with lawns and marinas), a small beach area, the aforementioned marina rental area (with the best prices we saw), golf, mini-golf, a playground area and tennis and basketball courts. There’s a mid-sized spa with reasonable prices, too.

The resort sprawls over the 250 acres (we found that most area resorts are designed similarly), but of note is all the interior hallways and walkways. It’s possible to go almost everywhere within the resort without going outside…a nice perk in the winter or when the wind picks up. There are eight different lodging sections. I stayed in Lakewood, which offers spacious suites (just be sure to ask for a water view, or you’ll be looking at the parking lot) and its own outdoor pool and hot tub. It’s also closest to the marina. The other sections are closer to the restaurants and indoor pool and hot tub, however.

The main restaurant is Frontier (full service) but there’s also a sports bar, a pizza and sandwich counter-service restaurant, and a poolside dining area. Though the aesthetics are dated (with a dark wood ‘North Woods’ type of feel) the grounds are beautifully tended and the lake couldn’t be closer.

If you want to be on Lake Geneva instead, I recommend The Abbey Resort, which also has indoor and outdoor pools, plus a virtual reality gaming room. They’re on a larger marina and harbor area.

Tip: Headed to Lake Geneva without the kids? Without a doubt, stay at The Geneva Inn, located right on the lake on the Shore Path, offering floor-to-ceiling lake views from their dining room and bar area. We enjoyed a meal here with excellent wine and cocktails.

Disclosure: I experienced Lake Geneva as a guest of the destination, for the purpose of review. All opinions remain my own. Photo credit: Amy Whitley and Walworth County Visitors Bureau.